How to decide on an overland vehicle
Deciding on an overland vehicle is definitely one tough decision. First, your choice will greatly affect the way of traveling: it will determine the places you can go and the hassle you will have while going there. Second, in case you are going on an extended overland trip, your vehicle will also be your home and add to your well being. Last, you may be going to spend a whole lot of money.
Therefore, it is wise to put some thought into this decision. But don’t be afraid, we put together what we have learned from our experience and are going to guide you through that decision making process.
Straighten out your premises
As with almost anything in life, the best overland vehicle simply does not exist. It just depends on you, your needs and your usage, which vehicle works best for you. As a simple starting point, think about how you are going to use your overland vehicle. Where are you going? Are you going on a single, month long trip or are you planning to do several shorter trips? At the end of the trip are you going to take your vehicle back home or are you planning to sell it at your final destination?
Just keep these things in mind when you are going through the next paragraphs and make a detailed decision.
Start with with the type of vehicle. Based on your idea of an overland trip you have probably already done this step. Under some circumstances you might have to reconsider. Usually the order in which you change vehicles follows the Dakar Rally. You start on two wheels, change to a car and end up in a truck. Everybody gets older, I guess..
Therefore we have put together all the vehicle options and their ups and downs below. Be sure to make the right choice for all your group members.
Vehicle types to consider
Driver’s license: No license required.
Group size: No kids, one bike per group member.
Comfort: Zero. You will be limited to 20-30 kg of luggage per bike.
Handling: Super easy. Can be taken on ferries, planes and on the narrowest roads.
Maintenance: Few mechanical parts, easily maintainable by yourself.
Initial cost: < 2,000 €
Running costs: Low. Cheap transport and maintenance. No fuel or Carnet de Passages required.
Badassity rating: Super badass! You are traveling only on muscle power, limited to a minimum of clothes and gear and completely exposed to the weather.
Driver’s license: Motorcycle license required. You probably have this one already.
Group size: No kids, one bike per group member and same kind bikes highly advised.
Comfort: So-so. About 30-50 kg of equipment should not be a problem for an average sized travel bike.
Handling: Good. You can travel the narrowest roads. Your negotiation power might still bring your bike on passenger ferries.
Maintenance: Fully mechanical models are widely available. A good share of maintenance can be performed on yourself.
Initial cost: 2,000 € to 10,000 €, cheapest motorized option.
Running costs: Fairly low due to low fuel consumption and comparably easy maintenance. The deposit for a Carnet de Passages depends on the vehicle’s value. Therefore comparably low.
Badassity rating: Very badass! Imagine rolling into a back road village on those knobby tires, completely covered in mud and dust. Within minutes you will have new (girl) friends.
Driver’s license: Car license required. You probably have this one already.
Group size: Up to two adults and a toddler is our recommendation, even you can travel with a bigger family as well.
Comfort: Pretty good already. You don’t have to worry about drinking water for three to five days, you can sleep on a real mattress and your fridge gives you a steady supply of cold beer.
Handling: OK. You are still good on most roads and bridges. Shipping can be complicated and expensive, since you may have to make use of containers or Ro-Ro vessels.
Maintenance: If you are planning to visit remote areas, try to get a vehicle with little to no electronics. Not every mechanic on earth uses recent electronic diagnosis tools. Most people will not be able to do all maintenance theirselves. Be sure to pick a model with a good supply of workshops and spare parts.
Initial cost: 5,000 € to 100,000 €, but no upper limit really..
Running costs: Pretty high, fuel and maintenance make a considerable share of your monthly spending. The deposit for a Carnet de Passages depends on the vehicle’s value. Depending on the country, that can be up to 100% of the vehicle value. Even though you get that money back once you return, this is still money you cannot access on your trip.
Badassity rating: Somewhat badass. Hey, you are still on an overland adventure, how many of your friends do that!?
Driver’s license: Truck license required. Enjoy driving school!
Group size: Depending on make and model you will easily fit four or five adults into a single truck.
Comfort: Welcome to your mobile hotel room. Warm water, shower and a real living room fully accessible standing upright. Basically everything is possible.
Handling: Weight, width and height might make some roads, bridges or tunnels impassable and considerably add to the cost and hassles of shipping.
Maintenance: If you are planning to visit remote areas, try to get an vehicle with little to no electronics. Not every mechanic on earth uses recent electronic diagnosis tools. Most people will not be able to do all maintenance theirselves. Be sure to pick a model with a good supply of workshops and spare parts. The upside: You can carry a fair amount of spare parts.
Initial cost: 40,000 € to 100,000 €, but no upper limit really..
Running costs: High, your fuel economy is miserable. Together with maintenance this will make up a considerable share of your monthly spending. The deposit for a Carnet de Passages depends on the vehicle’s value. Depending on the country, that can be up to 100% of the vehicle value. Even though you get that money back once you return, this is still money you cannot access on your trip.
Badassity rating: Pretty badass. The size and look of a truck may add to your badassity level.
We decided on a vehicle type within minutes. The comfort level and the speed of traveling by bicycle did not lead to any exultation and Heiner knew it was impossible to convince Anna to do this on a motorbike. So we were up to four wheels already.
On the back roads where we are planning to travel the size and weight of a truck can easily become obstructive. Plus, there is still a fair amount of water between us and our destination Australia. While we can easily fit our Landcruiser into a 20 ft container, shipping a truck can become annoying complicated. Therefore the cost and handling effort of a truck were deal breakers and we decided to go for a car.
Overland vehicle make and model
Once you have decided upon a vehicle type you are ready to narrow it down furthermore. The number of options can be overwhelming. Therefore, we are trying to guide you through this step by step. However, the decision which vehicle suits your needs, can only be made by you.
Regardless which vehicle type you pick, think about maintainability! On a multiple months overland trip something is going to break or at least you will have to change your oil, brake pads, timing belt or anything like that. At this point we disagree with Barney Stinson for once. New is not always better. There are two reasons for this:
- Older motor vehicles are simpler. New motor vehicles are stuffed with electronics. Diagnosis here may be easier. Just plug in a CAN bus reader and you know which part has failed. But from there on you are most certainly lost, unless you carry the right spare part. New vehicles are not meant to be repaired. They are designed for changing the parts. Think about it. Manufacturers make money selling spare parts, they do not make money when an independent garage does a repair job.
But there is also another problem with that. A faulty diagnosis job can prevent you from starting your engine. If you are stuck in a desert, ruining your engine might become a risk you are likely going to take for the chance of getting out of that situation.
- Remember that modern vehicles are made for changing parts rather than repairing them. Well, here are some bad news: Spare parts for your new, top of the shelf off road vehicle may be hard to obtain in a country, where you are basically the only person driving around in this model. On the other hand, there are cars, trucks and motorcycles that have basically been built for decades. You can be pretty sure, you will find spare parts for those vehicles in most parts of the world.
On a bicycle, this is not as much of an issue. But it’s still wise to get a bicycle with standard wheel sizes and no top notch disk brakes, for example.
Drive what the locals drive! This is an easy rule of thumb but it makes finding spare parts and mechanics way easier. You should not worry about Europe or North America. The population of vehicle densities are high enough, that you can basically get any European or American vehicle, respectively.
If you are planning to go to Asia, Africa or South America things become more complicated, but Japanese vehicles are always a good choice. Especially a Toyota. Did you know that there are several African languages where the word for car is “Toyota”? Those guys just cater all the world. A little reading in the two big expedition and overland forums HUBB and expeditionportal will help you find the perfect vehicle make for your trip. For more information also check our sources of information.
Some people sell their vehicles at their destinations. In these cases you want to think twice about which vehicle to obtain. You do not want to be left with a shelf warmer at your destination. This might just force you to sell way below value!
First of all you do not need four wheel drive to travel the world. It is only required if you want to go off road. But a higher clearance is advisable in many countries. Especially if you are planning to travel the roads less traveled.
You should also think about how you are going to use your car while you are not in the driver’s seat. Do you want to sleep inside your car or pitch a tent next to it? Do you want to be able to cook, eat and live in it or do you just need it to get you to your destination? The longer your trip is and the higher the budget is the more likely you are going to spend some of your money on comfort. But if you are planning to stick to main roads and do not want to sleep in your car a sedan may be the right choice for you.
Gasoline or diesel?
Let’s make this one quick: We root for diesel. Diesel engines are usually more robust to low quality fuel and have a higher fuel efficiency. The availability of diesel and gasoline is comparable, although diesel may be reserved for trucks in some countries like Iran. We have heard that it is still pretty easy to buy diesel anyway. We will keep you informed about our experiences.
Pickup or station wagon?
This one truly depends on what you want to do with your vehicle when you are not traveling. A pickup based truck camper has one big advantage: You can still use the pickup as a regular driver when you are at home. A converted station wagon is less feasible for everyday use. On the other hand, you do not have to leave your car to get from your bed to the driver’s seat in a station wagon (only in case you have a pop-up roof!). This may be useful in bad weather conditions or if you want to stay incognito.
Here we have put together the decision process for a car based overland vehicle:
Obvious choices: Car based overland vehicles
If you opt for a four wheeled overland vehicle and if you do not need that extra space a truck has to offer, an all-terrain vehicle is definitely a good choice. The extra clearance will do no harm and you just gain some flexibility, as you can travel off the beaten track. In fact, if you are looking for an overland vehicle suitable for traveling almost the entire world, you are basically left with those five options: Landrover Defender, Mercedes G-Class, Toyota Landcruiser, Toyota Hilux and Nissan Patrol. All these vehicles come with all wheel drive, differential locks and rigid axles, which makes them pretty good choices for rougher terrain.
Built for almost 70 years with only minor changes to the exterior, this is probably one of the first vehicles that comes into your mind if you think about all-terrain vehicles. Not just the look of this buddy has seen only little and slow changes over the past decades. Also the technology and production techniques have not been changed a lot. An exception is the engine, for sure. Here you should try to find a 300Tdi model from the mid to late 90s. The rumor is, that those guys are the most reliable engines found in the Landrovers.
The Ups: The Landrover, with its permanent 4 wheel drive, is certainly the best all terrain vehicle in the field. Due to its modular design, almost all parts can be changed easily. And its rectangular shape makes the conversion into an overland vehicle straightforward.
The Downs: It’s not the most reliable vehicle ever built and spare parts can be hard to find in some areas in Asia and South America. Former British colonies are usually not a problem, though. Also rust is an issue, so check that it has a proper (aftermarket) conservation.
Bottom line: Get a Landrover if you have just fallen in love with it, if you want to go crazy off road, if you are planning to travel exclusively in former British colonies or if you are a trained mechanic.
The Mercedes G (or Puch G) is indeed a nice car if you can afford it. The G has been built under license by Magna Steyr since 1979. There is also a military model for the German forces, called Wolf. The look of the G has stayed almost unchanged for more than 30 years. But unlike the Landrover or Landcruiser, technology-wise, the G has undergone frequent and numerous updates in the past decades. It is now a technology packed SUV starting at 90,000 € new.
The Ups: The G is solid, reliable, comfortable, strong and has good off road capabilities.
The Downs: The price tag! Because of this reason, spare parts can become a problem.
Bottom line: Good car, if you can afford it. In Germany you can find older models in neat conditions from fire departments or authorities. But you might as well buy another vehicle on this list in a better equipped condition for the same price.
Toyota Landcruisers have been built since 1951 in 12 series that cover the range from SUVs to rugged all terrain vehicles. Most suitable for overland traveling are the 70 or 80 series. The 70 series has been built since 1984 and is just an off road workhorse with no to almost no (newer years) electronics. The 80 series was built from 1990 thru 2007 and is way more comfort oriented. That comes with a fair amount of electronics, but which is still pretty much bullet proof.
The Ups: Together, those two vehicles have been built for almost 60 years. And they have been sold all over the world. The reputation of reliability and durability is enormous, it is no wonder, the UN chose those vehicles for many operations worldwide. Toyota dealerships can be found in almost any country worldwide, so spare parts a widely available.
The Downs: As common as they are in many parts of the world, in Europe and North America they are quite rare and, therefore, pretty expensive. The wide model range can make finding the right spare part difficult and the 80 series cannot be converted into an overland vehicle as easily. The non turbo diesel engines are rock solid, power-wise they will not exactly blow your mind. The HZJ78 (past 2001) models have some issues with their transmission. A well known weak spot that can be obliterated with an investment of around 3000€.
Bottom line: Perfect vehicle for Central Asia or Africa. Tough, simple and bullet proof. Not as off road savvy as other choices on the list, though. Rust is the biggest enemy of a Landcruiser, so make sure there is little to none and treat your beloved vehicle with a conservation.
If you are looking for a pickup based overland vehicle, a Hilux is a perfect choice. There is a reason they call it the “The Indestructible Truck”. It is one of the most widely used vehicles throughout Asia, Africa and South America.
The Ups: Reliable, sturdy and widely used make it a perfect option for overland travel.
The Downs: We prefer station wagons. Apart from that, there are no real down sides.
Bottom line: If you want a pickup based expedition vehicle, go for a Hilux!
Not as widely used as the Landcruiser 80 series, the Patrol (up to the Y61 series) is still worth mentioning. It is another reliable option with pretty good off road capabilities.
The Ups: Nice ride and definitely a bang for the buck. High reliability and good availability of spare parts.
The Downs: As for the Landcruiser 80 series, this ride is built for comfort, which makes it kind of hard to transform it into an overland vehicle. It is also worth mentioning, that the Patrol has never been sold in the US. So spare parts may be hard to find there. But if you are planning to go solely to the US, it is better to go for an US made truck anyway.
Bottom line: If you do not have too high expectations on the living space inside an overland vehicle, the Patrol is a good choice for trips to South America, Asia and Africa. Just make sure you get the 4.2 liter diesel engine.
The process of finding the right model and make was way harder than opting for a vehicle type. We did not have any experience with four wheel overland vehicles. Therefore, the first vehicle that came into Heiner’s mind was a Landrover. The most obvious choice when it comes to all-terrain vehicles. In parallel, we were already trying to straighten out our requirements for an overland vehicle. So it took us about a month of reading until we decided to go for a Lancruiser instead. Landrovers are not the most reliable vehicles on earth. It’s a fact, accept it. Though, we can still understand people falling in love with those amiably brute vehicles. Nevertheless, it just did not seem to be a smart move to combine that with a lack of mechanical skills, little lead time and bad availability of spare parts.
We fell in love with the 70 series pretty quickly. It’s look, technical data and what it stands for just blew our minds. But we were also considering the 40 and 80 series, knowing that one of these in good condition would be even harder to find.
This is how we decided on an overland vehicle. Let us know if you liked this text and use the comment section to discuss with us. How did you decide? What is the overland vehicle type, make and model of your choice? Let us know!
This is the first step of our Overland Vehicle Preparation Series. You can read all steps here.